Saul – the first king of Israel

The following contains scriptures examined at our second Bible study on the kings of the Bible. After each scripture I will give a short synopsis of what was discussed.

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” Judges 21:25

The tragedy of Israel was they were God’s special chosen people but the history of Israel as recorded in the Old Testament was of a people who turned from God and incurred Gods judgment and turned toward God and incurred his mercy. It appeared one followed the other but the damming verdict at the end of the Book of Judges was of a people who did what they pleased, which is what we are seeing in the world today.

When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders. The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice. So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”” 1Samuel 8:1-9

Samuel was the prophet (and the last of the Judges that ruled on behalf of God) and one of the Bible’s good guys. As with Eli his mentor, his sons went off the rails and yet Samuel still appointed them to high position (how often do we see this). While the people took umbrage at this, they were already set on having a king so they can be like other nations and, so they think, be able to have their cake and eat it – have someone to fight their battles and yet be able to indulge in their own selfish desires.

But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.” Then Samuel said to the Israelites, “Everyone go back to your own town.”” 1Samuel 8:19-22

Despite Samuel trying to persuade the people this was not a good idea (God’s plan was for a theocracy with people obeying God’s law, and not a monarchy) the people were adamant a king was what they wanted, despite laying themselves open to tyranny etc. God gave them what they wanted (as He may do for us), even though it was second best.

There was a Benjamite, a man of standing, whose name was Kish son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Bekorath, the son of Aphiah of Benjamin. Kish had a son named Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.” 1Samuel 9:1-2

Here we are introduced to Saul for the first time. Outwardly, he had all the appearance one might expect in a king, but as we will see, outward appearances are not enough. Even so this was God’s choice.

Now the donkeys belonging to Saul’s father Kish were lost, and Kish said to his son Saul, “Take one of the servants with you and go and look for the donkeys.” So he passed through the hill country of Ephraim and through the area around Shalisha, but they did not find them. They went on into the district of Shaalim, but the donkeys were not there. Then he passed through the territory of Benjamin, but they did not find them.” 1Samuel 9:3-4

Funny thing in scripture, some “unrelated” event triggers a meeting that was to prove momentous and history changing. Saul in searching for the donkeys was to meet Samuel.

Now the day before Saul came, the Lord had revealed this to Samuel: “About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin. Anoint him ruler over my people Israel; he will deliver them from the hand of the Philistines. I have looked on my people, for their cry has reached me.” 1Samuel 9:15-16

How perfectly God contrives things to happen and His way his best. God knew what was needed and He hears the cry of His people and responds in mercy. All Saul needed to be was obedient and God would bless him.

““I am the seer,” Samuel replied. “Go up ahead of me to the high place, for today you are to eat with me, and in the morning I will send you on your way and will tell you all that is in your heart. As for the donkeys you lost three days ago, do not worry about them; they have been found. And to whom is all the desire of Israel turned, if not to you and your whole family line?” Saul answered, “But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?”1Samuel 9:19-21

So it all comes together as God says it would. We need to draw a lesson that God is in control and we should fret less and trust more. The donkeys are safe and Saul and Samuel finally meet. Understandably, Saul is reluctant to discover he is the man that has been chosen, as is the fact he was a lowly Benjamite. It is no coincidence given the tribe of Benjamin was almost wiped out (ref. last two chapters of Judges), yet God specializes in choosing the lowly, for always God must have the glory.

Then Samuel took a flask of olive oil and poured it on Saul’s head and kissed him, saying, “Has not the Lord anointed you ruler over his inheritance?1Samuel 10:1

So the deed is done. The anointing with oil was more than symbolic. It showed divine favour and that God was intending to uphold and bless Saul in his kingly duties providing he follows God’s calling, and that was to be the reality from now on … if only.

As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul’s heart, and all these signs were fulfilled that day. When he and his servant arrived at Gibeah, a procession of prophets met him; the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him, and he joined in their prophesying. When all those who had formerly known him saw him prophesying with the prophets, they asked each other, “What is this that has happened to the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” 1Samuel 10:9-11

While we may question whether Saul was prophesying in the sense of foretelling the future, he clearly was taken hold of the Spirit of God, a clear sign of how God wanted to bless Saul

When Samuel had all Israel come forward by tribes, the tribe of Benjamin was taken by lot. Then he brought forward the tribe of Benjamin, clan by clan, and Matri’s clan was taken. Finally Saul son of Kish was taken. But when they looked for him, he was not to be found. So they inquired further of the Lord, “Has the man come here yet?” And the Lord said, “Yes, he has hidden himself among the supplies.”1Samuel 10:20-22

Despite the anointing and the affirmation, Saul was reluctant. It must have been an amusing site and likely understandable given the awesome job that Saul was about to take on.

They ran and brought him out, and as he stood among the people he was a head taller than any of the others. Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see the man the Lord has chosen? There is no one like him among all the people.” Then the people shouted, “Long live the king!”” 1Samuel 10:23-24

The deed is done; Saul is king and the people acclaim the fact.

Samuel explained to the people the rights and duties of kingship. He wrote them down on a scroll and deposited it before the Lord. Then Samuel dismissed the people to go to their own homes. Saul also went to his home in Gibeah, accompanied by valiant men whose hearts God had touched. But some scoundrels said, “How can this fellow save us?” They despised him and brought him no gifts. But Saul kept silent.” 1Samuel 10:25-27

It is notable that rights and duties go together and this was something the people needed to know as well as Saul. Before long Saul would be tested on the matter. It was good he was surrounded by those whose hearts God had touched and is something we would want for all kings, although sadly too often that is not the case. There were those who from the outset were against him and there is nothing new in that either.

The people then said to Samuel, “Who was it that asked, ‘Shall Saul reign over us?’ Turn these men over to us so that we may put them to death.” But Saul said, “No one will be put to death today, for this day the Lord has rescued Israel.” Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingship.” So all the people went to Gilgal and made Saul king in the presence of the Lord. There they sacrificed fellowship offerings before the Lord, and Saul and all the Israelites held a great celebration.” 1Samuel 11:12-15

Saul passes his first test as king as he fights a battle on Israel’s behalf, and wins and shows true kingsmanship. Things are looking good and God is with him. Sadly, things were soon to change. He loses God’s favour through disobedience (and unlike his successor refuses to repent) and his end is a sorry one – but that is another story, leaving the way open for David to take over.

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